30 May 2013

Cloth Diapering a Newborn

Imagine cotton prefold (size newborn) in angel wing fold
Can I cloth diaper a newborn?

This is a question I get asked often. It is definitely possible, in fact I cloth diapered A from when she was a little over a week old. We used disposables for the first week (provided free of charge by the hospital), but after seeing how easy it was, I will be cloth diapering from day one with future babies.

Which diapers do you recommend? 

Personally I'm a huge fan of either sized prefolds or flats and covers for the newborn stage. 

These are the main reasons why I love them:

a) It is the most cost-effective way to cloth diaper a newborn, especially since they will outgrow it quickly
b) You can get a really custom fit on your newborn with prefolds and flats, which means it is a virtually bulletproof option to prevent poop blowouts
c) Prefolds and flats are super easy to get clean, much easier than synthetic fibres (which are normally found in the one-size pocket diapers).

Thirsties Duo Wrap (size 1) over a snappi'd newborn prefold
Which brands do you recommend & where can I find them? 

I used Imagine size newborn (also called size x-small) and size small prefolds on A (100% Indian cotton), paired with Thirsties Duo Wrap covers.

The Imagine prefolds are the most affordable option if you're ordering from the US, though do take into account that shipping and customs will add extra costs to the total. The difference between the x-small and the small is that the small has more layers throughout, making them slightly bulkier but also more absorbent than the x-small. If you are expecting an average to big newborn you can skip straight to the size small. I used the x-small on A for the first two months (she was 2.9 kg at birth) and then switched to the small as she needed more absorbency at that stage.

What I like about the Thirsties Duo Wrap is that the size one comes with three rise adjustment options and so will last much longer than other newborn sized covers. It is stated to fit up to 9kg (or 9 months), but I found that it fit well up to about 6kg (which for us was 6 months) - still a whole lot better than other newborn covers which will fit to maybe 4kg. Thirsties also feature double gussets - a lifesaver for keeping runny newborn poop inside the cover. We literally never had a blowout using these covers. Not many disposable diaper users can say the same! 

Double gussets on the Thirsties Duo Wrap
If you are looking for a local option, I think small receiving blankets would do an excellent job as flats for a newborn and are a much less bulky option than terry squares. 

The only prefolds that are locally available are Econobum, but they are one-size and very bulky on a newborn. 

If my choices were limited to what is locally available I would go for the receiving blankets with either pep waterproofs or the newly launched Hippie Safari (not my brand!) fleece soakers.

How many diapers will I need?

Many online forums will recommend 30 - 36 prefolds/flats for the newborn stage, but I found that 24 was sufficient. Bear in mind that A was born in summer though and so the prefolds dried very quickly in the sun and heat. If your baby will be born in winter, it's probably safest to get in the 30 - 36 range. 

You will also need 4 - 6 covers. 
Small receiving blanket folded to fit a newborn and then folded into the Jo Fold 

What do I do with the runny poo? 

The good news is that while your baby is on a liquids only diet (ie breastmilk and/or formula), their poo is completely water soluble, so you can just toss the soiled diaper straight into the pail, waiting to be washed. The washing machine will take care of the rest. And no, there won't be any leftover poo in your washing machine, promise.

What about the meconium? 

Believe it or not, it will wash out of your cloth diapers. Now I have not tried this myself as all the meconium had passed by the time we switched to cloth, but have it on good authority from a few moms that have used cloth from day one that the meconium is no problem when it comes to washing - just pop it in the machine like normal.

Doesn't ebf poo stain horribly? My diapers will be ruined!

This is where the natural bleaching properties of the sun comes in. A's prefolds used to still have yellow stains on them when they came out the wash (even though they smelled perfectly clean) - after about an hour in the summer sun the stains were completely gone. Note - the diaper needs to be wet when you place it in the sun to get the stain out. 

The problem with one-size diapers on a newborn - leg gaps
Why can't I use one-size fits all (birth to potty) diapers on my newborn?

Firstly, they will be very bulky on a newborn. This is just an aesthetic issue though and if they worked otherwise, one could live with the bulk for the first few weeks. 

The main problem though is that you will struggle to get a good fit on your newborn's skinny little legs with the average one-size diaper, since the leg openings usually cannot get small enough. Leg gaps  mean that runny poo has a chance to escape. I don't know about you, but I definitely don't want to be cleaning poo off onesies, bedding and carseats. 

For the newborn stage especially, it is crucial to ensure that there are no gaps around the legs or waist. This will keep the runny poo right where it belongs: in the diaper. 

Leaving you free to cuddle your precious little newborn. Bliss. 

More information:
  • My photo comparison of various newborn and one-size cloth diapers on a newborn doll (includes South African brands)
  • Change Diapers' comparison of various newborn and one-size cloth diapers on a newborn baby (US brands only)


  1. I found this post so useful thank you so much :) I just have one quick question, how long do you think the small prefolds and Thirsties Duo Wrap covers will last? I am reluctant to spend a lot of money on diapers or options that will only work for the newborn stage (like xsmall Earthbabies)... but from what I understand even after baby is bigger and is fitting into other brands I should still be able to stuff other nappies with the prefolds and use the covers over my mother nature nappies.. is this correct? Thanks for your help :)

  2. Read the post again and see that you did say the Thirsties covers will last up to approx 9kg :) Did you buy the snap option? I see they also have a hook & loop...?

    1. I'm a fan of snaps as they last longer. Thirsties recently came out with new velcro which are a lot better than their old velcro. So if you're buying new and you really like velcro, I think that option would be fine, but if you're buying pre-loved, rather get snaps.

      Other good cover options for newborns (which will last a bit longer than just the first few weeks) are Blueberry mini coveralls and Imagine's newborn cover. Both of them also have rise snaps, enabling them to grow a little with baby, but both size down quite small to fit tiny newborns as well (I tested them on my son and they fit him well even at 2.4kg).

    2. Thank you so much :) Have ordered 2x packs of the Imagine prefolds (small); 2x Thirsties Covers and 2x Imagine newborn covers and I have 10 Mother Nature nappies (just the cloth no cover) left over from my first son (5yrs ago) :) I also took the plunge and ordered 2x BumGenius 4.0's... very excited I think I've caught the bug! Thanks for all your help x

  3. Love your reviews! So how big would you suggest making newborn flannel flats? 50x50cm?

    1. Yes I think 50 x 50 is a good size for an average newborn.

  4. Hi there, can you recommend any local companies that now make or distribute the prefolds for newborns as i see a lot more smaller companies popping up and wondering if its still neccessary to import? thanks so much x

    1. Definitely not necessary to import anymore, I should update my post. :-)

      For prefolds available locally try Mulberry Moon (Imagine brand), Little Sams (BB or Grovia brand) or Benjo Baby (Sweet Pea brand). Locally made we have Mini Matters and Pokkelokkie. Hope that helps!

  5. MariƩ de la Hunt22 August, 2016 08:51

    Starting from scratch Marisa, enjoying your newborn section as I would love to start from the beginning with the new baby. I sold all Marilein's cloth last year only to be surprised by this pregnancy now. Excited to start the journey again xxx

    1. Congratulations! I am so happy to hear that you will be welcoming another little bundle. :-D

  6. Hi
    I just found out I am pregnant when is a good time to start purchasing the nappies.
    If it is possible please update the post about local newborn nappies


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